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Assessments of each state's campaign finance disclosure program were based on legal research, web site visits and research, web site testing by outside evaluators and responses from disclosure agency staff and activists working on campaign financing at the state level. The Project researched, but did not score states on, whether state electronic filing programs have been implemented on schedule based on findings from prior research conducted in 1999. (Please see “Digital Sunlight: A look back, a look ahead” for an analysis of progress made by the states in electronic filing.)

The UCLA School of Law and the Center for Governmental Studies researched state campaign finance disclosure laws. The legal research was conducted from July 2002 through March 2003 and was based on state laws as of December 31, 2002. Changes in the laws that were made or implemented in 2003 will be reflected in the next round of grades. Statutes, regulations, rules and forms were evaluated in each state. Upon completion of the research, the Project sent the research findings to officials in each state for verification and any discrepancies identified by the state officials were evaluated.

The California Voter Foundation (CVF) conducted research on state electronic filing programs, accessibility to disclosure records and online contextual and technical usability through a variety of methods. Each state agency responsible for overseeing campaign finance was asked to respond to a questionnaire – either by phone interview or in writing. All 50 state agencies responded to this request for information. CVF also sought input from activists working on campaign finance issues at the state level; 18 responded to CVF's questionnaire either by phone or in writing. CVF researched campaign finance disclosure information on the web sites of each of the 50 states. A web site evaluation form was created to ensure uniformity in the research and each state web site was evaluated twice by CVF staff members between January and June 2003.

The UCLA School of Law conducted usability tests of state disclosure web sites in May and June 2003. The goal of the usability tests was to determine if the disclosure information provided on the Internet is accessible to the average citizen. Usability testers, recruited from the undergraduate student population at UCLA, were asked to perform specific tasks on each state's web site. The time and number of mouseclicks it took to complete each task were measured.

The tasks were as follows:

  • Locate the state's disclosure web site starting from the state's homepage;
  • Ascertain the total contributions received by the incumbent governor in his or her last campaign (testers were given a list of incumbent governors that included the year they were last elected); and,
  • Provide the name and amount contributed by any individual contributor to the incumbent governor's last campaign.

The second measure of usability was a survey in which each tester was asked to evaluate his or her experiences on each site. The states were assigned randomly to testers, with each tester testing five different states. The experiment was administered twice to thirty different students, and six different students tested each state. A more detailed explanation of the usability test is included as an appendix to this report.

Following the completion of the research and usability testing, CVF compiled preliminary scores for each state that were reviewed by the Grading State Disclosure Judges before final scores, grades and ranks were determined.

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This page was first published on September 17, 2003
| Last updated on September 17, 2003
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